June 27

Apartment, Cooperative, and Condominium COVID-19 Guidance

The District of Columbia is now in Phase 2 of reopening.  DC Health developed guidance for apartments, cooperative associations, and condominiums.  DC’s document outlines measures to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission among employees, tenants, and the community. You can view a copy of the guidance document here.

Also, for materials that can be posted within your facility and for additional information on Phase 2, visit https://coronavirus.dc.gov/phasetwo.

Please contact our office at 202-269-3333 with any questions.

June 8

CORONAVIRUS OMNIBUS EMERGENCY AMENDMENT ACT OF 2020

Mayor Bowser recently signed into law the Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (hereinafter “Coronavirus Support Act”) that adds further protections for tenants at landlords’ expense. A copy of the portions of the Coronavirus Support Act relevant to landlords can be found here. Below is an outline of landlords’ new duties under the Coronavirus Support Act. Please note that this is meant to be a very basic summary of a very nuanced and complex law and should only be used for informational purposes, not as legal advice. Further, despite being valid law, our City Council is apparently still considering additional legislation that may change some aspects of these provisions. Do not hesitate to contact us with specific questions.

Section 402 Tenant Payment Plans.

o Both commercial and residential landlords must notify all tenants of a rent payment program that grants tenants impacted financially by COVID-19 a minimum of 12 months to pay rent that comes due during the public health emergency and for one year thereafter. A landlord cannot file a case unless the landlord has provided such notification. A tenant who is rejected from plan participation can file an affirmative claim against the landlord, which may have the effect of staying any case filed against the tenant. Thus, every landlord should provide a payment plan enrollment form and a notice to tenant. The notices should be issued in a verifiable manner. Do not hesitate to contact Battino & Sokolow PLLC regarding preparation of these forms.

Section 403. Residential Cleaning.

o Owners or landlords of all residential buildings, including single rooms, condominiums, and cooperatives, must clean common areas or frequently-touched surfaces “on a regular basis.”

Section 404. Eviction Prohibition.

o No new eviction cases can be filed during the public health emergency and for sixty days thereafter. No eviction can be executed during the public health emergency.  The public heath emergency currently extends to July 24, 2020, but it is possible the emergency will continue to be extended thereafter so the date on which landlords can file new cases is currently unknown, with September 22, 2020 being the earliest possible date.

Section 405. Residential Tenant Protections. & Section 406. Rent Increase Prohibition.

o All tenant deadlines, including those related to TOPA and notices of intent to vacate, are tolled through the public health emergency.

o Tenants must be refunded the prorated money paid toward amenities that have been restricted during the public health emergency.

o All rent increases for residential units are void and prohibited during the public health emergency and for thirty days after.  The rent increase prohibition applies to certain commercial properties, too.

If you have any questions regarding the Coronavirus Support Act, or any other COVID-19 legislation, please contact our office at 202-269-3333 or email Aaron Sokolow at Aaron@SokolowLaw.com, Vivianette Velazquez at Vivianette@SokolowLaw.com, or Morris Battino at MBattino02@gmail.com.

April 29

Federal and DC COVID-19 Laws And Evictions

The current Covid-19 public health emergency has created a patchwork of federal and local laws that have significantly changed landlords’ rights regarding tenants who fail to pay their rent. First, and foremost, both federal law and D.C. law have restricted landlord’s right to file new eviction cases for nonpayment of rent. As Battino & Sokolow reported on March 28, 2020, the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES ACT), which placed a 120-day moratorium on filing eviction cases against renters living in single-family and multifamily properties financed by federally backed mortgages (i.e., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Department of Urban and Housing Development [HUD] loans) and renters living in federally assisted housing. See CARES ACT, § 4024. CARES ACT also prohibits landlords who (1) receive a mortgage forbearance and (2) whose property contains 5 units or more, from evicting tenants. See CARES ACT, § 4023. For further information on the CARES ACT, see HUD Guidance on CARES Act and evictions; CARES Act Landlord Mortgage Forbearance; CARES Act and DC Real Estate Litigation. In short, if your property is linked to the federal government, you are likely prohibited under the CARES ACT from filing a nonpayment of rent case until mid-July at the earliest.

D.C. Council may have further limited all D.C. landlords, whether subject to the CARES ACT or not, from initiating new eviction cases for nonpayment of rent. On April 7, 2020 D.C. Council passed the COVID-19 Supplemental Corrections Emergency Declaration Resolution of 2020 (D.C. Supplemental Act). Importantly, the D.C. Supplemental Act greatly expands the protections offered by D.C. consumer protection laws. Debt collectors cannot initiate a lawsuit to collect a debt from a debtor while D.C. is in a state of emergency and for 60 days thereafter. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 207(b). Unfortunately, the D.C. Supplemental Act is written so broadly that these restrictions could be applied to landlords seeking rent, as rent is generally considered a debt. Accordingly, filing new nonpayment of rent cases against tenants may be prohibited by the D.C. Supplemental Act, though it would be Battino & Sokolow’s position that a case only seeking possession of a property, and not a money judgment, may not fall within this prohibition.

A debt collector is also prohibited from initiating communication with a debtor during the emergency. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 207(b). The D.C. Supplemental Act does allow “original creditors” to communicate directly with debtors, which seems to indicate that property owners may communicate with their tenants. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 207(b).  There is ambiguity here as to whether third parties, such as management companies, are running afoul of this law by contacting tenants regarding outstanding rent.  Again, perhaps the distinction between seeking the monetary debt and possession of the premises will be legally significant.  However, property managers acting on behalf of owners should exercise caution when communicating with tenants regarding any rent, or other fees, they may owe while the D.C. Supplemental Act remains in place.

The D.C. Supplemental Act created other rights for tenants, which are outlined below:

  • A recipient of a mortgage deferral must reduce the rent charged on a qualified commercial or residential tenant in proportion to the reduced mortgage amount paid. A qualified tenant is a tenant who notifies the landlord they are unable to pay all or portion of rent due to the emergency. The tenant must repay the rent owed within 18 months, or the end of the lease term, whichever occurs first. See C. Act 23-286 § 202.
  • All time periods for tenants and tenant organizations to exercise rights under the Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act of 1980 are tolled until the end of the emergency and for 30 days thereafter. See C. Act 23-286 § 203.
  • Tenant notices of intent to vacate upon the expiration of a lease provided prior to the emergency are tolled. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 203.
  • A rental increase is null and void if it is: effective during the emergency or 30 days thereafter, provided during the emergency, or provided prior to but takes effect during the emergency. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 203.
  • All time periods for tenants and tenant organizations to exercise rights under the Rental Housing Act of 1985 are tolled until the end of the emergency and for 30 days thereafter. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 203.
  • All rent increases are prohibited during the emergency and for 30 days thereafter. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 203.

If you have any questions regarding the CARES ACT, or the D.C. Supplemental Act, please contact our office at 202-269-3333 or email Aaron Sokolow at aaron@sokolowlaw.com, Vivianette Velazquez at vivianette@sokolowlaw.com, or Morris Battino at MBattino02@gmail.com.

April 22

HUD Guidance on CARES Act and evictions

Yesterday the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued guidance for evictions in this time of Covid-19. The document’s stated purpose is to provide answers to frequently asked questions regarding the eviction moratorium for public housing agencies. However, many of the answers offer insights for private landlords, too. The answers are generally in line with our existing analysis of how the CARES Act affects evictions in the District of Columbia. While this guidance is not binding on DC Superior Court Landlord and Tenant Branch, hopefully judges will find it very persuasive. The guidance can be read here.

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